Normal emotion and disorders of mood (anxiety and depression)
Mood disorders (depression and the anxiety disorders) are the commonest forms of mental illness. They often occur together, commonly also with medical and neurological illness, and in young people where they are associated with a poorer prognosis and greater burden of disease. The classification and conceptualisation of mood disorders has not advanced appreciably over the last 100 years, and this remains one of the unresolved issues in understanding their biology. The limited development in classification and conceptualisation of mood disorders has also contributed to the current sub-optimal outcomes that characterise much treatment for depression where, at best, only 60% of patients may obtain full remission and even where this is the case 50% of those will subsequently relapse. Furthermore, research into accurate prediction of onset of disorder and its role in effective prevention has hardly begun. The likelihood of heterogeneity in clinical depression means that it is possible that the limited success of current treatment is rooted in the undifferentiated nature of diagnosis and the failure to identify distinct “biological subtypes”.
Research on mechanisms in this area includes groundbreaking neuroimaging work on emotion and emotional disorders; study of different aspects of reward-associated and ‘emotional’ behaviours such as anxiety in transgenic mouse models; the development of theoretical perspectives on affective disorders, including accounts of how neuromodulatory systems might contribute to their aetiology; and clinically based research into the functional anatomy of mood in conditions such as PTSD and reward processing in the context of Parkinson’s Disease.
A significant new assessment procedure is the development of the world’s first risk algorithm in mental health for prediction of onset of major depression (predictD). Groups in UCL clinical psychology have developed new interventions for depression in adults including visualisation techniques in PTSD and CBT interventions for depression now being tested in multi-centre MRC and HTA funded randomised trials.
UCL is a leading centre for research into mood disorders in people with cancer and other life threatening disease, including the Marie Curie Palliative Care Research Unit.
Key departments and research groups
Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging (WTCN)
Department of Mental Health Sciences (MHS)